Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Dear Human Resources Manager

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I am writing to request an interview to work for your organization.  When I filled out your online application, you asked about my criminal history.  Because I answered honestly, I fear that we’ll never meet face to face in order for me to explain my past.  This is disappointing, because I have something valuable to offer.

It is also frustrating, because productive employment represents one of the bridges that could lead me back to a trusted place within my community.  I can explain what led me to commit criminal acts. For me, it was out of the desperation of addiction; but, everyone has a unique story.  The point is that I fractured the bond that existed between me and my community.  Now that I’m out of prison, I have to heal that wound.  Using my skills and passion to help you achieve your goals is one of the ways that the bonds of trust are restored.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that the likelihood of me and anyone with a criminal past going back to prison decreases significantly when we find gainful employment. 

For many years, I was defined by the crimes I committed.  I wore the label “offender”.  It represented a permanent state, not the actions of my past.  The label doesn’t go away just because they released me from prison.  People ensure that it remains a permanent mark of shame that separates me from my community.  In the rare instances when I get an interview, employers quickly race to the end of the interview when I try to explain what I’ve done to overcome my past. Even if they wanted to give me a chance, their lawyers or senior executives would veto the decision.    

Ironically, it is what I’ve done to overcome my past that makes me an asset beyond what you can imagine.  In prison, I learned to deal with stress, anger, and pain without turning to alcohol or drugs to change my mood.  How many of your current employees can say that?  In prison, I learned to do the right thing at every moment, even when no one was looking.  Can all of your senior executives say that?  How many of your workers embrace their jobs with the type of gratitude and passion that I would bring with me every day?  Believe it or not, it was in working to overcome my past that I learned all of these things.  
The criminal record you see on that application represents untold efforts to overcome the worst about myself.  How is that not a strength? 
If you took the criminal background question off of your application, you and I might get an opportunity to have this conversation.  You wouldn’t be alone.  Hundreds of cities and counties around the country removed the question from their employment applications.  Already, 18 states followed suit.  Major corporations like Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and Koch Industries removed the question from their application.  I included links below that will allow you to read about these decisions yourself. 

These employers know something that you don’t.  They know that we all make terrible mistakes in our lives, and that we should never be permanently defined by our darkest moments.  When they welcome people into their organizations who have worked to overcome past mistakes, they build a bridge back to the community that anyone can walk across, even themselves. 


Doug Smith

Fair Chance Employment Resources: